Archive for June 2013

Going Round and Round the World (and Round and Round Again)   Leave a comment

Welcome back to Gratuitous JRPG.  On our last (very late) post, we covered the varied plot types of RPGs and how to factor the genre’s elements into the writing.   In addition, I did an overview of the first third or so of the game in progress.  But as observed then, there were a few snags in the plot development due to an undefined world.  Building a world, and conversely an extremely rough world map, are the subjects on which this week’s post will focus.

Every game needs a world.  After all, it’s where the game takes place.  A character is essentially unable to go from A through B to C if anywhere on or between that set of points is undefined, and it’s even worse if it’s given minimal definition.  Players are not going to want to wander through a featureless expanse that bears very few features save the ones that the player absolutely must interact with, after all.  At the same time, however, these world features are not going to be appreciated if the player happens to throw them out haphazardly with all of the tact, care, and attention to detail of a nine-year-old on a sugar high.  So there will have to be some semblance of rhyme and reason to this.  But the real question lies–where to start?

World creation in a JRPG can be said to have three elements to it overall: flavor, pathing, and gating.  Flavor will be the first part of this covered, and this goes back into the plot writing.  Flavor itself can be said to have two parts for this purpose–the past and the present.  Both are important for establishing a world, but at the same time it must be stressed that it takes a lot less than one would imagine to give a sufficient idea for a world.  One does not need to define every single position in the presidential cabinet if, for example, none of the people in them are even appearing in a game.  But what is meant by past and present in regards to setting?

When I say the past, I mean the world’s history as is relevant to the game’s story and current world.  This does not mean, again, that a comprehensive history of the world must be drafted, edited, rewritten, and finally be put into canon after a review by several certified experts on fantasy worlds that are similar to the one you are creating for your game.  This is one of the shortcuts: you don’t need to cover every little detail.  Just the ones that inform the present-day setting and the plot.  As for the scale of this writing, it can vary depending on the subject of the written history.  An example using the current in-development game would be as follows:

  • Roughly 150 years ago, the Isuria Empire attempted a global takeover in a crusade on behalf of their leader, who was believed to be of divine heritage.  This was ultimately stopped by a group of five heroes each wielding a relic of immense power who stormed the capital and killed the “Holy Empress”.  This, combined with the resultant fighting outside wiped out a majority of Isuria’s population, and the empire, now without a symbol, leader, or much of a populace remaining, simply could not hold the ground it could.  Its territory contracted massively.
  • After the war, the five weapons were given to five dragons–“those who could live to remember the past when man couldn’t”–to be sealed away as best decided by them.  Their locations continue to be largely hidden to this day.
  • While normally the coalition of nations would have attempted to take over the lands given and press the offensive to take over Isuria, they were hurting from the world-wide conflict as well.  Aivarel–directly on the landmass with Isuria and the first nation targeted by its crusade–was no longer a nation as stood; they had been crushed in the war.  Zeisrell, Vaskel, and Leissia were left standing, but between the fact that they were a continent away and reeling from the war themselves kept them from setting up long-term occupation.
  • Over the years, things changed.  Aivarel was nonexistent, though any who went there in the following years seemed to never return.  The kingdom of Vaskel entered a decline, with each successive ruler even more depraved, deranged, and terrible than the last.  Leissia fared even worse, suffering a widescale social breakdown.  Zeisrell established its knighthood not long after the war, and started its traditions from there–and happened to be the only nation of the three on the eastern continent to enjoy a degree of prosperity, but even it is far from perfect…

And there we have a very basic cover of the five nations that show up in the game.  There are two other regions that aren’t defined there, but this is the past.  The history.  Those two “undefined” regions aren’t known in-game for what they were as much as what they are.  And that brings us to the present.  If the past is the world’s “backstory”, the present is simply the current state of things.  Once more, this need not be exhaustive, simply relevant.  For an example below:

  • Two major continents currently exist on this world–the western and eastern continents.  The western continent has what remains of Isuria and Aivarel, but is now largely empty.  Isuria, to the north, has lost a large number of its cities and remains largely isolated, while Aivarel’s land in the south has largely become overgrown–and if the statements that people who enter never come back are to be believed, potentially quite dangerous.
  • Meanwhile on the eastern continent, there is Zeisrell to the southeast–currently the most prosperous nation in the world, if only on the basis that they’re the only nation prospering–though there is some resentment among members of the knighthood about current political affairs.  Vaskel to the east has gone to hell by comparison–its most recent kings have been more of a threat to their own kingdom than any possible outside threat, and the people of the country suffer for it.  Leissia, on the southwest and west ends of the continent, has had its own problems–the country has turned isolationist and unfriendly after its republic collapsed, got overthrown, and was replaced by an autocratic ruler–who still only has loose control over the country. (okay, not sure on this one, revise in the future).  The north and northeast have largely been an uninhabitable tundra–though that hasn’t stopped people from trying.
  • Lastly, there is a small island chain in between the two. continents.  Most of these islands are largely empty or have a cave or two, but one in particular has a set of ruins that nobody seems to have been able to get into.

This is a decent layout of the world setup.  So for the story so far (last post), it has largely covered portions of Zeisrell and Leissia.  I want the rest of the world to be explored at some point in this game, so i will have to keep this in mind for the rest of the plot.  In the meantime, however, this brings me to the next aspect of world creation–pathing.  Pathing, in this case, is simply determining how the player explores the world.  Every game has a way to get from beginning to end, after all, and just like plot structures, there are a few variants.  (Edit: WordPress is being fussy about images again.  Click to get the full picture.)

dq1image

Our intrepid hero wishes he could simply cross that body of water straight away–his destination is right there.

The first variant is the open-world setup, where free roaming is king.  You may be given instructions by the plot to go to one place, but you can just as easily ignore the plot and go do your own thing, like running around and fighting monsters, visiting way out of the way towns, or simply getting up to that obnoxious mountain peak that taunts you.  This does happen to have its downsides, however.  Since gating is more difficult the less linear a game gets, and this is about as far from linear as most can and will go, such a task will be amazingly hard to manage gracefully, to say the least.  Furthermore, this requires a lot of effort to make sure there’s things worth exploring for–an open world format is a waste if there’s little to actually see and do in said world, after all.  This format is most often seen with WRPGs (every Elder Scrolls game is like this) and persistent-world MMORPGs for…fairly obvious reasons.

The next variant, going from most to least open, is a branching setup.  This kind of pathing is largely ubiquitous to Metroidvania games and the Legend of Zelda series, but a number of RPGs do it too.  The basic conceit is this–you typically start with a single pathway while the others are gated off.  Eventually, you accomplish something that unlocks some of the gates–be it finding a new item or completing part of the plot.  This leads to other pathways, some of which have gated pathways in turn on them, and one or more of them having a way to open some other gates.  Rinse and repeat until you reach the end.  This has its benefits, in fact, insofar that it rewards backtracking once you have some gates open, but proper implementation of gating is a must for this to work well.  If not, you will simply have a consequence of either sequence breaking (improper gating, to be covered later in the post), getting lost (usually occurs when there isn’t enough information about where the next plot-relevant branch is), or a failure in design intent (not enough gates).  The first Dragon Quest is actually an example of this, as is the fourth Epic Battle Fantasy game.  Crystalis is a case of a game with arguably not enough branches, on the other hand.

The third variant of pathing is the linear setup.  Players are most familiar with this, and while the name implies it’s the most linear, it actually happens to be middle-of-the-road as far as linearity goes.  While there may be a divergence or two along the line, the majority of the game takes place along a, however curved, linear path.  Gates block progress until opened, upon which progress along the line once again resumes.  Oversights in gating, however, will lead to some notable sequence breaking and the linearity will elicit complaints from some JRPG players.  Furthermore, bad implementation of the linearity and failing to hide it will make the game feel mistakable for the next two formats.  Final Fantasy games frequently love this sort of pathing, to note, and one of the most famous FFs of all time, FF7, is notable for this.

The next type of pathing, I would call the fragmented setup.  In this, the world map stops existing, and areas are frequently accessed from a representative map or a simple list.  This is the point where gating largely stops being relevant, as the main way by which to gate the player in this format is simply to not let them have access to the areas the designer does not want them to have access to at this point of time, by making the area not show up on the map or list.  Out of games, Final Fantasy Mystic Quest was the first notable JRPG to do this, though FF10, the Digital Devil Saga games, and Epic Battle Fantasy 3 have also done this notably, though Strategy RPGs that allow battle replays (Disgaea) also use this format.

Lastly is the sequential format.  This is as linear as one can get for pathing, as it takes the fragmented setup one step further.  No sidepaths, no world map, and no backtracking, instead progressing through areas as if stages from a platformer game.  This may allow for a degree of fine-tuning, but it is a very divisive route to take for a more standard RPG based on how Final Fantasy 13 was received.  It did, after all, gain the derogatory nickname “Final Fight 13” for a reason, after all.  Other than that, this is a more accepted format for Strategy RPGs such as Fire Emblem and Super Robot Wars

Lastly today, we will cover gating.  I’ve mentioned it several times before in this post, and it sounds self-explanatory, but it has some nuances that may be passed over.  Gating, to put simply, is keeping the player from going where they shouldn’t until they’ve completed a required achievement in the game, such as acquiring an item, defeating a boss, or advancing the plot in some manner.  This may be more familiar to some pen and paper gamers as “Railroading”.  Now, to people who like their sandbox tabletop gaming, keep in mind that railroading is not bad.  Sequence breaking–getting to places you’re not supposed to–can hurt your game just as bad as badly-done gating can.  And of course, the forms of gating are about as varied as the forms of pathing, as follows.

train

There’s no getting off of this train once it’s started.  Be prepared for a ride on the rails.

Gating by difficulty, frequently known as using a “Beef Gate” in tropespeak, is the least recognizable as a proper gate, and it’s the most reviled for a very good reason.  The concept is simple–you’re not actually cut off in the world by anything other than much harder encounters that you have to be numerically powerful enough to beat.  This requires equipment boosts or the most hated thing: experience grinding.  This is most evident in the game that this form of gating is the most egregious in: Dragon Quest 1.  For the first 90 or so minutes of the game if you grind, you will be staying on one continent, not daring at all to cross any of those dreaded bridges.  And then at the beginning of the lategame, you will hit a wall where you can’t mitigate enemies through purchasable equipment anymore.  To properly execute this, you will need to get an extremely fine-tuned experience curve, and test it thoroughly.  But in general, this was abandoned by game design for a reason.

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Our intrepid takes one look across the river, and finds himself glad he’s not over there with his clothes and bamboo stick.

The next form of gating is gating by tools.  This form is most frequently seen in metroidvanias and their ilk, once more, but it sometimes shows up in RPGs.  Most typically, this an item or ability that has a secondary function of some sort–Crystalis is possibly the earliest RPG example of this by comparison, as illustrated with its swords’ level 2 abilities: the Swords of Wind and Fire can break rock and ice walls respectively, and the Sword of Water can create ice bridges over  shallow water.  The Float, Barrier, Paralysis, and Telepathy spells become this as well, though possibly sometimes not enough.  In essence, acquiring these tools allows you to open new pathways elsewhere.  Other games that facilitate this include Lufia 2 and the Wild ARMs series.

Somewhat related to this is gating by puzzle.  Frequently in dungeons, this form of gating is based explicitly on the player’s ability to complete one or more puzzles.  These puzzles may range from sliding block puzzles (a rather infamous configuration now frequently lampooned) to acquiring or piecing together a code, to a myriad of things.  Sometimes this involves tool use for a combination of this and tool-based gating.  While every dungeon has a few puzzles, Wild ARMs and Lufia 2 are probably the most famous for this form as well.

The most common form of gating, is gating by event.  That is to say, one or more areas are blocked off until a plot switch is triggered by completing more of the story.  The most famous examples of these are the Broken Bridge and the Bouncer.  The Broken Bridge is where there’s a terrain feature that can’t be fixed until you advance the plot enough (which often does not have to do at all with directly fixing the bridge), and the Bouncer involves one or more NPCs who stand in one place and block your progress until a future event.  In reality, this is almost universal to JRPGs, and will frequently occur in practically every RPG that is pathed less strictly than sequential (Fragmented-path games use area availability as a form of event-gating) and more than open-world.  In short, if you’re making a JRPG, you will almost invariably use this method at one point or another.

The last form of gating, made popular by the first Final Fantasy, is gating by transportation.  Similar to gating by tools, this is changed by receiving an item in question.  As opposed to that, however, the item is specifically a vehicle.  This form of gating was largely started in JRPGs by Final Fantasy (Ship, Canoe, Airship) and Dragon Quest 3 (a giant bird), but has become notably influential with how many games eventually get sea or air transportation.  Of course, placement of areas on the world to prevent this transportation from allowing sequence-breaking is vital to making this form of gating work.

As can be seen, creating a world in which a JRPG takes place is a more complicated matter than most.  Between breathing life into the world with history and present conditions, setting out a path for the player to take, and blocking off paths that you do not intend the player to go down until later, any game creator will have no small amount of work on their hands.  And with that, I feel this concludes this week’s post of Gratuitous JRPG,  Hopefully back on its weekly update schedule.

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Posted June 23, 2013 by EpicAlphonse in Uncategorized

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The Structural Architecture of JRPG plot   Leave a comment

Welcome back to another post of Gratuitous JRPG.  I would like to first give an apology to everyone for this post being four days late; Issues at home aside, I have been distracted by this year’s Final Fantasy 5 Four Job Fiesta charity run ( http://www.letsplaying.com/FF5FF/ ).  If you have some free time and a way to play FF5, I encourage you to join in.  You do not need to make a pledge to play, simply sign up for the challenge and try your best to complete it.  It’s great fun and helps out a good cause.  With that out of the way, last week we covered the wide, wide world of status effects, picked apart the RMVXA default effects and enumerated some of our own.  And now, my game design thoughts have gone back to the angle of plot, and with it, the common patterns of plot in JRPGs.

As has been stated previously, plot is a constant in RPGs.  It’s what largely drives the characters to action.  However, what form this plot takes can and may vary, and even without accounting for this variance, will typically allow for more fights to be covered than a standard novel or show–as to facilitate mechanical character growth, and in turn the acquisition of new abilities and equipment.  It similarly has to facilitate the gameflow of the particular game, be it the town-to-overworld-to-dungeon-to-overworld-to-town cycle, the much more linear pattern that a lot of Final Fantasy 13 likes to take, the open-world format of WRPGs, or anything in between.  But this facilitation can come in one of many forms.

The first, and simplest form of this are what I like to call Objective-Based Plots, and what some may call “Excuse Plots”.  These are the oldest form of RPG plots, belonging to such titles as the first Dragon Warrior.  While each game has an objective, these games have the plot literally be the objective.  The plot is there, but it’s laid out at the beginning, often with little character interaction or the like (because frequently they are single-character RPGs!).  This is the RPG equivalent of prefacing your game with “The president has been kidnapped by ninjas!  Are you a bad enough dude to save the President?”  Aside from older games (Dragon Warrior, Shining in the Darkness), the only games to pull this plot now are dungeon-crawlers and roguelikes.

WhatPlot

The Evil Emperor has kidnapped the chancellor!  Are you a bad enough knight to save him?

The next form of plot for RPGs is a World-Based Plot, which is a whole different beast from the other plot types.  World-based plots are largely more episodic in nature, with the PCs acting more in the capacity of wandering heroes going from town to town, running into the local problem of the village and solving it, before moving on.  What drives them to wander from town to town might be present, but the formula is present.  Usually around the end, a major plot arc will spring up to try and retroactively tie the matters together, but a majority of the game is built around the episodic format.  This does nicely fit the town-overworld-dungeon-overworld-town pattern, but can result in things feeling disconnected. Games involving this sort of plot aren’t common to my knowledge, though I have heard a number of the Dragon Quest games among others use this sort of plot structure.

WorldBased

Tune in next episode!  Same JRPG time, same JRPG day!

Following that is the basic arc-styled format, what I simply call a Single-Arc Plot.  The plot stays about the same arc and topic the entire time, though it may have its twists and turns involved.  In general, no new major enemies will show up, there will be no “Man behind the man”, and so on.  As a result of this, these tend to belong to shorter games, as it is much more difficult to keep a plot focused on a single arc in a longer-running game.  An example of this includes Shining Force 1; you’re constantly fighting the forces of Runefaust, and by extension Darksol, with no real change from this focus.

SingleArc

Pretty much the simplest possible.  Don’t expect too many surprises here.

The first of the more complicated common formats is the Switching-Arc Plot–defined by having the arc switch heavily based on events.  The simplest variance of this is the Man Behind the Man scenario, or for those not fluent in tropespeak, setting up one character as the primary villain before eventually revealing that there is yet another higher villain controlling that villain’s actions.  This is frequently done as a means by which to extend games, so it is advisable to be careful when attempting to write with this plot structure.  Furthermore, for this to have a worthwhile effect, it has to be executed roughly around the normal arc’s height.  A large number of games decide to pull this more as a means by which to have a more graphically impressive final battle, however.  For examples of this, look no farther than Final Fantasy 4.  Looking right at you, Zemus.

SwitchingArcOkay DamnitZemus

On the left: the flow of a more well-pulled-off change-up flow.  On the right…oh damnit Zemus, what the hell are you doing here?

The last major formula that will be given a look-over is the Compound-Arc Plot.  This is another tricky form of plot that requires a notable use of introductions and foreshadowing.  What typically goes on here is that sometime in the middle of the initial plot, there will be the hints of a second plot arc coming to rise, often with a part that previews the focus of that.  As the first arc starts to come to a conclusion, the second arc overtakes it and continues the action of the plot.  This is unlike the switching-arc plot insofar that the first arc is not suddenly invalidated by this, as much as gets overtaken in its resolution.  This is frequently done with starter villain arcs, such as in Tales of Graces F–halfway through the second to last dungeon in the first major arc, hints at the second arc start showing up more and more–albeit as a result of events in the first arc.  Of the arcs here, this takes the most pre-planning to work into the story without it feeling like two separate plots, so care is needed once more.  Of course, this also happens to be the plot format I’m using.

CompoundArc

They’re totally not seeing the second one coming (okay, they are.  Foreshadowing and the feeling the game is way too short otherwise.)

With the basic plot formats out of the way, it would be nice to take a look at what matter of plot structure is largely needed for a JRPG.  The most important factor of plot is that it has to tie in any towns, dungeons, and possible overworld segments to the world.  As such, when developing a plot skeleton, you are going to need to place room for several kinds of genre features as follows:

  • Dungeons: Every RPG’s going to have at least one area that can be qualified as a “dungeon” of some sort.  By dungeon, I mean a defined area in the game that typically has a desired endpoint to access, more difficult enemies than anything in the surrounding overworld, an inability to save, and must be completed to progress through the game.  These areas do not have to be literal dungeons, of course, but the point is that you will need a few of these for your game assuming it is not a Strategy RPG, and it would be best to account for them in your writing along the way.
  • Bosses: Any story with fighting will need its climactic battles.  And being a video game, your bosses are going to need to be an entertaining fight.  While gameplay supporting plot is helpful, in this case it would be better to work around the other way, have plot support gameplay.  A sidenote at this point, is that while it may be realistic for some bossfights to take little longer than normal fights (particularly against human enemies), but for the sake of a more interesting battle, it’s encouraged to segregate plot from the gameplay for the sake of a more entertaining conflict.
  • Towns: Towns, cities, castles, and the like are the typical safe points in RPGs.  They’re usually the checkpoints along the plot, where you can stop, restore your characters, take a break from the game (assuming this is a game without fixed randoms, limited randoms, or a save-anywhere feature).  However, towns are a bit of a tricky matter to handle, since it is perfectly within reason to have one or two out-of-the-way towns that have no plot relevance whatsoever.  Typically these are going to be either a base for an optional dungeon, or a place at which the player can obtain things they normally would not be able to at the first point they can access it.  The ones that aren’t irrelevant, however, are good places to set up plot direction and chances to interact with NPCs outside of plot cutscenes.
  • Shops: While it normally comes with towns, it’s worth noting that your plot should account for the ability to go to the side and buy things from shops.  And even a game where every playable part is linear like Final Fantasy 13 found a way to integrate shops.  The main point is that it is generally desirable to have a way to upgrade equipment, buy items, or otherwise have a way to manually advance your character outside of leveling from combat.
  • Exploration: This one is optional for some formats (IE: those doing a more superlinear or “streamlined” game), but this is more an advisement for those who are using a more traditional format to have room for out-of-the-way stuff.  By which I mean optional dungeons, out-of-the-way towns, and the like.  They don’t need to be covered by plot, but offer something for going off the beaten path on the overworld.

Keeping this in mind, I feel it is about time to start with the formation of my own game’s plot as I have it so far into a more proper plot “skeleton”.  This is only going to be partly finished, of course, but the point is to illustrate how plot should be organized alongside gameflow.  So without further ado:

  • GAME START — because the game has to start somewhere.
  • Story starts with Leo and Friederich arriving at a village under attack by a gang of bandits.  Knights were called for to help out here, and Friederich was the nearest one there so he got sent.  And so we start with an intro [Dungeon].  I was tempted to have it start at Zeisrell’s capital, but then decided that’d be a bit too slow and I wanted to plunge the player right into the action.  It worked for more than a few games already, it works here, and Zeisrell’s capital’s going to be visitable soon enough anyway.
  • Halfway through or so, we’ll have a [Midboss] of sorts–probably some bandit lieutenant with some non-trivial backup.  Once he’s beaten he’ll set off a bomb to blast down something (either a building, rock, or a tree.  It’s big and path-blocking), separating Leo from Friederich.  He’ll be on his own until he runs into Renaud, here in part because the village hired him, and in part because he’s certain he can loot something from the bandits he takes down.
  • Continue dungeon until meeting the bandit gang’s leader, our first [Boss].  Upon beating him, Renaud notices the knights are coming and flees–noting that any loot not taken directly from the village that belonged to the bandits will be claimed as the kingdom’s money.  Not wanting to go to jail, he exits stage left.  Leaving Leo there alone, and the impression that he beat down the bandit leader solo.  Surprised (albeit a bit suspicious), Friederich decides this at least looks worthy of promotion from squire to knight–be it he got some help from presumably a nearby guard or not.
  • Cut to Zeisrell Castle, at the end of the knighting ceremony.  At this point, Leo is on his own and can freely explore the castle and attached city.  He can’t leave yet but he can talk to varied NPCs (worldbuilding funtimes).  When he walks into the knight commander’s office, though, he gets his first mission, complete with “Good timing, we need you for something.”
  • The Southwestern Archives have been under attack by an unknown person, and the local forces haven’t been able to get to them.  However, since Leo has little in the way of magical ability or knowledge himself and the Archives are loaded with spelltraps and wards and the like, the captain requisitioned someone from the Zeisrell Magic College to come along–and enter Alexis, who was unanimously volunteered.  And totally not picked as an excuse to get him out of there and stop being such an insufferable nuisance.  Introduce Sigil Crests and how to use them here, by the way.
  • With Alexis having joined up, the two may leave the castle and city.  If the player wishes to go out of the way, they may return to the village they saved earlier [Town], or head out directly for the Archives.  Entering the Archives, it’s another [Dungeon].  Halfway through the two encounter someone else–the eighth PC who I’ve decided to name Azalea, who has gone in on her own for reason she refuses to disclose.  She’ll be covered in a bit after this.
  • Further traveling into the dungeon with Azalea in tow, they eventually run into the actual culprit (note to self, flesh this guy out later), who fights the party briefly before bringing in a golem to act as a distraction as he leaves [Bosses.  Well, sequential boss].  As he leaves, he takes a tome with him–one that’s valuable historically (and kept there), but not well-understood by anyone who was on-site.  Azalea leaves, to track down the thief as the other two head out to report their failure.
  • Upon their return, however, it seems like their report is delayed in the light of a tournament of arms starting up–with the rewards of a “great quest” and the Princess’ hand in marriage pending on the success of said quest.  Impulsively, choosing to prove he’s as awesome as he thinks he is alongside wanting to accomplish that heroic fantasy in his head.
  • Following the announcement at the tournament’s commencement, cut to a scene where the princess, Caecilia, is raising her objections to her ill and bedridden father–who brings up that one of the kingdom’s generals came up with the idea to begin with.  (note to self, name and come up with a profile for this guy as well).  She goes off to contest the matter with said general.
  • Back to Leo, he gets to have his own nice little Tournament Arc while Alexis is off explaining the failed mission with the commander.  Not quite a dungeon, but it’s a chain of fights.  Regardless, plot requires him to win this set, though he can restore his HP (not his ST) between fights easily enough.
  • With the tournament finished, Leo gets his new assignment–trek far northwest to find the dragon’s lair containing [artifact, need to name this], and return said artifact.  Alexis voices his doubts–they’d be crossing Zeisrell borders into another country–but the general quashes those doubts.  Once Alexis and Leo leave the capital again, they’re accosted by Renaud–who overheard statements of a quest to kill a dragon and take its hoard.  Which, of course, can be sold for a big profit.  Awesome profit.  He joins up, and our party is back up to three.
  • Traveling northwest, it’s pointed out that the border crossing is…difficult to say the least, since [other country] isn’t too accomodating to outsiders.  Renaud points out a way past the border, though it’s via a dangerous mountain pass. [Dungeon].
  • Moving west and exiting the pass, the three move out into the open again.  [reserve some of southwest overworld for later.]  When they head north, they’ll happen upon a mining [Town] situated in front of the northern mountain path.
  • Turns out the path is the only way to get up to the desired location, but it’s been closed off because of a notably bad drake problem.  And naturally, pulling status won’t work, there’s nowhere to sneak by.  With this, the party may then head to the bar to discuss the situation.  Overhearing the discussion there is Valeska, who is about to go on the drake-slaying herself.  Overhearing the discussion, she eventually cuts a deal; she’ll help clear out the drakes, but in exchange, she gets to go along on the dragonslaying job and gets first pick of the hoard if it remains.  No ifs, ands, or buts.  And heaven help them if they try to ditch her on the job.
  • And so the four go into the mines to try and deal with the drake problem [Dungeon].  While this may look like a filler dungeon, it’s actually a way to help introduce Valeska–typically each character is going to get a dungeon to showcase their abilities in one way or another, and this one is no exception.  Some discussion about in-universe stuff happens as well (differences between dragons and drakes, for example), and eventually the party comes upon the drake broodmother, which has made the mines its nest.  [Boss] time!
  • Clearing out the mines, the party then gets to finally move north.  Some side-areas are available here, but going straight up will lead to a climb up another mountain trail [Dungeon].  Coming up to the peak, they finally find what they’ve been looking for for the time–the stated dragon’s lair.  Inside, the party ends up meeting with the owner of the lair–Kiri(she doesn’t give her name yet, of course).  In her high-energy form, and none-too-pleased with what she suspects is another group of people trying to steal what is hers–and after some exchange of words (Alexis attempts to be the voice of reason, but between Leo’s hotheadedness, Renaud’s greed, Valeska’s particular hate for dragons, and Kiri’s own possessiveness, he gets nowhere, fast) the two parties fight. [Major Boss].
  • The fight itself looks to be going to a draw when suddenly a massive surge of magical energy blasts into the room–knocking everyone out and nearly killing Leo and Kiri.  When they come to, Renaud is missing, Kiri in particular notices a few things: she’s in her low-energy (humanoid) form, she feels weak as hell, the artifact that she kept was missing, and her hoard got completely disenchanted.  Naturally, she is furious.  Alexis reveals that to save them both–largely out of panic–he tried using some locked-away magic he studied a bit of when he was at the magic college, binding their lives together.  It saved them–but with the side-effect that if one of them dies, the other does too–and it consumed the charge in all of her hoard in the process.  Kiri ends up butting heads with everyone present, before heading off on her own while the remainder of the party present follows–Leo so he makes sure she doesn’t die (so he doesn’t die), Alexis to continue making sense of things (and because he’s still following Leo), and Valeska so that once this spell gets lifted, she can resume her fight with Kiri.
  • Meanwhile, at the Zeisrell capital, the king’s state has taken a massive turn for the worse, as he lays in bed dying.  Caecilia is by his side, as are Friederich, the general from earlier, another knight (tempted to have had this guy also show up at the tournament earlier for earlier introductions), and several others present.  He gives his last words, intending to give his official endorsement of Caecilia’s rise as queen, but dies before it can be said.  The situation gets harsh as tensions rise between her and the general, before the latter leaves for the time being, and Caecilia orders everyone else out of the room to be alone…

And that’s all I have so far.  Gameplaywise, following that would obviously be another dungeon of some sort to introduce Kiri’s gameplay, and the start of a few plot threads from there.  I feel I’ve only got about the first…third or so of the game done, and there’s already been this much.  There’s already been five dungeons, four bosses (five if you count the tournament sequence as one), and six out of eight PCs introduced so far.  Writing plot out for a RPG can get tough–especially given that I admit I got a bit carried away and wrote more plot than just skeleton form.  It, however, does fit around the varied genre conceits.  I will be honest–plots can get quite long here.

Lastly, since Azalea, who was formerly the Mystery Eighth PC, was revealed, I feel it’s only fitting to use a bit of this post to introduce her character block, both in profile and statistically.  Because this post wasn’t long enough.

Azalea – She’s not giving away who she actually is or where she came from, but what is known about her is that she serves someone she just refers to as her boss.  Her behavior is…unprofessional to say the least, often provoking allies and her employer for the sake of deriving some amusement–something her boss finds themselves notably exasperated about.  Despite this, she displays a surprising amount of competence, when she feels like it at least.

Azalea’s fighting style is different to say the least, gracefully combining her knowledge of swordplay and archery with her magical talents in a manner that is notably similar to but far, far more refined than Kiri’s brute-force approach to fighting.  However, she also does not stake much on taking hits, with her preferred defenses to be either to not get hit at all, or to leave a corpse where an enemy stood.  Her skillset reflects this, with a large variety of physical/magical composite attacks backed up by a selection of spells for when the combined arts don’t work out.

  • HP 1, ST 4, POW 3, ARM 3, PEN 5, MNT 4, WIL 3, FOC 5
  • Equipment: Light Swords, Bows, Light Armor, Hats, Circlets, Foci, Off-hand Daggers, Arrows

And…that’s it.  Next post will be covering the important aspects of worldbuilding and world design with it.  Hopefully on time.  Until then, Epic Alphonse out.

Posted June 20, 2013 by EpicAlphonse in Uncategorized

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Status Critical and Critical Condition   Leave a comment

Welcome to another installment of Gratuitous JRPG.  Last post, we scratched the surface on equipment and skill design and concepting for a game, covering equipment types, templating versus innate, and general skillset layout for the seven revealed PCs of the game.  This episode, we are going to talk about something that is both ubiquitous and divisive in the domain of JRPGs: Status effects, and their brethren, statistical modifiers.

The truth of the matter is, no matter how seemingly diverse your skillset is insofar as damage types and elements, no matter how remarkable your characters are, no matter how exactly well-thought-out your damage equation and statlines are, if your non-damage options amount explicitly to healing, then your game is going to be an absolute slog barring the chance that you have made an Action RPG with the perfect battle system.  And if you believe you have a perfect battle system, I have some land in an eastern fantasy wonderland fueled by disbelief to sell you next.  Status effects are the factor that elevates support roles in JRPGs beyond simple restoration of HP, since it adds another layer of combat on which one may attack, defend, and reinforce their motley rag-tag gang of PCs.  Of course, how effective status is in a given name is impossible to predict.

Status in a RPG is something that has a wide tendency to fluctuate between games.  Not only widely for the series given, but even within games in a series.  Availability, accuracy, potency, mitigation, and many other factors can be considered, and they run the gamut from useless to overpowered depending on the game.  In a large number of Final Fantasy games, for example, one can largely get by while ignoring all but a few indirect spells, those often being the game’s Haste, Protect, and Shell equivalents–the status buffs that most directly affect combat ability of one or more given PCs.  Offensive status in most of those games, to say the least, is left to the wayside, on the basis that it does not work on anything you can’t kill for a similar level of resource expenditure anyway.  Enemy status being easily negated in turn, be it through ribbons, the Esuna spell, Remedies, or one of a variety of other options in the series, doesn’t help.

Elizabeth_

“Status spells don’t matter?  I bet you’re great at Final Fantasy.”

Excuse Elizabeth there.  She hails from the Persona series, an offshoot of the Shin Megami Tensei series that Atlus is famed for.  SMT has become well-known for its brutal difficulty, to which its use of status is a contributor, and in turn rewards players for utilizing status spells, be they the evade-boosting Sukukaja or the wide variety of instant-kill attacks.  Phantasy Star 4 is notable for its widespread proliferation of instant death abilities in the hands of the PCs, and even the first Dragon Quest had useful and efficient status in the forms of Sleep and Stopspell (the former, in fact, enables luck-manipulating speedrunners to beat the game with characters at level 7–the minimum level at which one can learn Sleep).  The king of status, however, is not a console or computer RPG, but a tabletop one.

die

If you’ve seen one of these dice, you probably have heard of what game I’m referring to.

Third Edition D&D (and its updated versions 3.5e and Pathfinder, but particularly 3.5e and 3e) have gained some degree of notoriety, and in fact retain some popularity to this day.  3.5e has in particular been notable for its extensive character optimization community that has reached one general conclusion about the game: direct damage is the least efficient manner in which to accomplish anything in the game.  This is an indirect result of, among many other factors, Monte Cook’s favoritism towards spellcasters in general and wizards in particular, and the rigid tiering of classes is a consequence of this imbalance.  This is most definitely a case of the opposite direction from JRPG players’ preconceptions about status being ineffective, where status is instead king and anyone focusing on damage is essentially playing suboptimally.  The major point of this is that making status too effective will essentially make the game’s gameplay as flat as making it nigh-ineffective.  Additionally, it’s a reminder to keep biases in check when designing a game, lest gameplay be negatively impacted, but I digress.

With the discussion of status versus non-status effectiveness, and the importance of balancing such out of the way, status in RPG Maker games can be categorized on two axes: effect and availability.  A further side-category can be made for stat modifying abilities, as well, for reasons to be explained.  In effect, every status has a position upon each axis, or sometimes multiple positions on an axis on occasion, but in a given game, not every position is taken by every status, nor does it necessarily need to in fact.  Keep in mind that categorization is intended more for organization and reference purposes than a quota to be filled.  Just like elements, do not create a quota you feel must be filled, it only leaves to designing something that may not need designed to begin with.

The effect axis can be divided into multiple categories, starting with the disabling category.  This is basically all of the status effects that will take someone out of the action until said status is restored, including classic examples as Sleep, Paralysis, and Instant Death effects.  These effects, due to their nature, have to largely be restricted in most cases due to how effective they are, and are the least frequently effective on bosses, and are incidentally the other big contributor to “status is useless!”.  There are a number of exceptions to this, however.  Both Record of Agarest War Zero and Labyrinth of Touhou are games where status is useful against bosses; the latter in particular has paralyzing bosses as a very viable, and sometimes required strategy, and it is in fact possible (albeit impossibly difficult) to instantly kill Chaos in the first Final Fantasy.

The next category on the effect axis is the restricting category.  This is different from disabling status insofar that disabling status completely negates its sufferer’s ability to do anything, while restricting status only negates part of that character’s ability set.  This form of status includes such as the Silence and Pain statuses from the Final Fantasy series, Arteseal from Tales, and so on.  Similar to disabling status, this tends to not work on bosses, though this is comparably loosened.  At the same time, while it is not as debilitating as disabling status, its impact may vary; silence on a mage is about as bad as paralysis, for example.  This should be kept in mind.

Next on the list is the control category of status.  In contrast to the former two categories, control status doesn’t interfere by taking away character abilities as it does by interfering with your ability to decide for the character.  This falls under three possible categories: automated control, which includes the trinity of Berserk, Charm, and Confuse; interfered control, which involves some forms of Confuse in a games, and others such as SMT “Fear” or paralysis status; and lastly AI direction, such as provoke in Wild ARMs 4 or Final Fantasy 13.  While less outright debilitating for a character most of the time, this form of status can turn out to be far more irritating for players due to the frustration associated with control loss, or devastating if that control loss is turned the wrong way on the wrong character(for example, Ultima Weapon equipped Cloud hit with confuse becomes a very real threat to your party in FF7).

Following this and the last of the exclusively negative status types is the debilitation category.  This is incidentally the widest category, but in general will negatively impact a character’s performance without necessarily stopping them from doing anything.  This ranges the gamut from lowering an elemental resistance, to decreasing their HP every turn, to making them take damage from every attack they make, to increasing your ability costs, to negating experience gains for the fight, and everything in between.  In essence, these are too varied to note, but the main differentiating factor between them and negative statistical modifiers is that they frequently affect parameters that are not visible or affected in turn by equipment.

The fifth form of status is enhancement-type.  The opposite of debilitation status, enhancement status gives varied beneficial modifiers to a character’s performance.  The most frequent of these tends to be a boost to action count, a regeneration ability, damage reduction, or spell reflection.  This tends to be described as non-status support at times, but is technically status if it’s not an explicit parameter boost–apply the same metric as you would to debilitation status versus negative statistical modifiers here.

The last form of status is transformation type.  This is probably the least frequently seen type of status, which creates a full change-up of character parameters.  This is at times confused with debilitating status such as Mini in FF, or restricting status such as Frog from the same series.  More accurate examples would be Access in Wild ARMs 2, and Ryu’s dragon transformations in Breath of Fire 1, 3(not verified, might need to check this), 4, and 5, which give notable changes to the user’s skillset and stats while it lasts.  This is also not to be confused with formshifts on bosses, where a boss takes multiple, progressive forms throughout a fight.

Availability of status is the other axis along which status can be categorized, but it is comparably less complicated than the effect axis.  This can be boiled down to three forms: player-exclusive, player-available, and enemy-exclusive.  These are self-explanatory, but it should be noted that player-exclusive status is usually tied to plot abilities, and enemy-exclusive status to specific bosses and the occasional enemy.  This means that most of the status you are going to consider before enumerating skills for PCs will fall into the first two categories.  The lattermost can be considered on a fight by fight basis.

Lastly, a note must be made for parameter-changing effects, that alter common parameters.  While this is its own category and normally not the realm of status, in all RPG Maker iterations between RPG Maker 2000 and RPG Maker VX Ace, all stat-altering effects have had to be expressed through status.  There is nothing stopping this, but if you wish to treat them differently, mentally note the entries you wish to use as such so you don’t end up using them like status.

The last thing to consider is how to remove status.  Unless it is intended to be permanent (which few status that isn’t plot-derived is), there is going to be a removal method depending on the status and the type of game.  Status removal can take one of many forms, which is up to the creator of the game in question as follows:

  • Full Restores: It’s typical to have an inn stay heal all status, including death.  Some games averted this, interestingly enough (Final Fantasy 1 required you to take dead party members to a clinic to be revived, for example, and nothing but a Soft would cure petrification.  Inns were still a good cure-all otherwise, though)
  • Blanket Cure: Some games have a one-stop cure-all for status, be it items or spells.  These vary, but examples thereof can be found in Final Fantasy (Remedy, Esuna), Disgaea (Fairy Dust, Espoir), Epic Battle Fantasy (Garlic, Purify, Cleanse), and Xenogears (Physimentisols)
  • Categorical Cure: Some games lump status into groups, to prevent clutter of restoration methods.  The most obvious example of this is Xenogears (Physisols, Mentsols)
  • Individual Cure: Some games, particularly those with a more oldschool bent, will instead require one stock up on individual status curing items or spells.  To keep management slightly easier, the quantity of status is often reduced.  Examples include older Final Fantasy games, Phantasy Star 4, and anything made by Tri-Ace.
  • Cure by Damage: Some status is cured just by taking damage, or physical damage.  This may be based on chance or a 100% rate, but it is most frequently reserved for Sleep, Confuse, and Charm statuses.
  • Battle Only: Some games have some or more status only persist for the battle it is applied in.  As such, it is automatically cured at the end of the fight.  Epic Battle Fantasy games apply this method, among others.  Pen and paper RPGs tend to avoid this, having a seamless transition between combat and out-of-combat.

And to tie this all together, we will take a look at RPG Maker VX Ace and its default status options.  It has a lot of them, but many of them overlap in one way or another or are used more for mechanics or event flags (Guard and Immortal coming to mind).  Keep in mind that all status chances are very slightly influenced by Luck, though negligibly so in RMVXA’s default settings.

  • Death: Only listed as the “0 HP” status here.  Nothing inflicts it instantly, but it’s got two spells and an item that cure it.
  • Poison: Enemy-exclusive, debilitating-type.  Sufferer takes 10% mHP damage per turn.  Cured by two items (Antidote, Dispel Herb) and two spells (Cure, Cure II).  Only other status than Death that does not self-remove at the end of battle.
  • Blind: PC-available, debilitating-type.  Reduces accuracy by a flat 60% rate.  Does not apply to magic.  Lasts 3-5 turns.
  • Silence:  PC-available, restricting-type.  Disables magic, cured by one item (Dispel Herb) and one spell (Cure II).  Lasts 3-5 turns.
  • Confusion: Enemy-exclusive, control-type.  Character targets random ally or enemy.  Cured by item, spell, or damage (50% rate).  Lasts 2-4 turns.
  • Sleep, Paralysis: PC-available, combination disabling/debilitating-type.  Character will not act and cannot evade.  Cured by item, spell, or damage (100% rate, Sleep only).  Lasts 3-5 turns for sleep, 4-6 turns for Paralysis.
  • Stun: PC-available, disabling-type.  Character will not act.  No cure.  Lasts 1-2 turns.
  • Cover: PC-exclusive, enhancement-type.  Character will take attacks for weaker party members.
  • Provoke, Hide: PC-exclusive, control-type.  Character is 10x/10% as likely to be targeted by enemies.
  • HP Regen, MP Regen: PC-exclusive, enhancement-type.  Character regains 10% HP/MP per turn.
  • TP Regen: Unused status.  Character regains 10% TP per turn.
  • Ironbody: PC-exclusive, enhancement-type.  Character takes 10% as much damage from physical attacks per turn.
  • Counterattack, Magic Evade, Magic Reflect: PC-exclusive, enhancement-type.  Character has a 100% chance to counterattack physicals/evade magic/reflect magic.
  • Fire Force, Ice Force, Thunder Force: PC-exclusive, enhancement-type.  Character’s element becomes fire/ice/thunder, gains 50% resistance to fire/ice/thunder, gains 10% ATK.
  • Ailment Guard: PC-exclusive, enhancement-type.  Character becomes immune to Poison, Blind, Silence, Confusion, Sleep, Paralysis, and Stun.
  • MP Cost Down: PC-exclusive, enhancement-type.  Character’s MP costs become 1/4 of their normal value.

As one can see there, there is a very heavy weight of PC-exclusive statuses to the other types.  This is most likely to show off the mechanical features of VX Ace, but it is one of the more unusual cases.  Cutting out the latter half, which are relegated to skills that will rarely see use due to VX Ace’s TP setup, PCs get access to similar status in general, with enemies gaining poison and confusion exclusively, leaving five common status effects between PCs and enemies.  Two of these are off of TP skills (Stun at 30%, Blind at 50% but multitarget), and the other three are split between two characters, with only one instance of a status being shared between two characters(between the defaults, .  This looks like specialization, but an excess thereof.  Adding to that those with notable on-demand (read, not TP-based) statbuffs,   Simply put, offensive variety is lacking–and if you include statdowns, it only adds another character to those with offensive options other than “damage”.  Summing it up, RMVXA defaults are bad, do not need to restate this in detail.

Quiz1Quiz4Quiz2example4example5

Most of the indirect offense in the game?  On these five.  On three in particular.  Guess which ones.

With that out of the way, we can get to one of the fun parts: laying out the varied statuses available.  I’m going to leave out parameter modifiers on the basis that they’re different enough and we can assume they’ll exist in some way, shape, or form.  Keep in mind that this is going to be a tentative list, so it will be subject to change, and not cover individual player-exclusive cases.  How much of this will remain depends on how the player skillsets turn out, to be precise.  Furthermore, I will be categorizing statuses into physical and mental categories, so to make restoration cleaner.  But anyway, without further ado:

  • Death: Yeah, it’s here too.  Instant death effects do exist, at that, though in this case I’m tempted to make it so that it either ends at the end of battle, or force resource expenditure on out-of-combat revival items.  In-combat revival is going to be harder to get a hold of by comparison.
  • Poison: debating a higher amount of MHP damage than usual for the normal case for PCs: 23% mHP per turn.  There will be multiple versions to make it viable against stronger enemies without it being overpowering–12% and 4% damage versions that piggyback on PC skills and allow it to continue being a useful investment.  In essence it’d be three statuses, but the general idea is the same: player-available debilitating-type, damage per turn.  Persists outside of battle (testing permitting), physical status.
  • Stun: Player-available, disabling status, lasts until next action.  This is basically a way to remove the target’s next action.  No cure possible.
  • Sealed: Player-available, restricting status, disables magic use (but not physical ability use).  Mental status.
  • Crest Sealed: Enemy/plot-exclusive, restricting status, disables magic from sigil crests (and only sigil crests–innate magic is not affected) Mental/Plot status.
  • Disabled: Player-available, restricting status, disables physical attacks and physical techniques.  Physical status.
  • Daunted: Player-available or enemy-exclusive, debilitating status, decreases target’s Exceed to 0 next turn.  Mental status.
  • Fatigued: Player-available or enemy-exclusive, debilitating status, target’s Stamina decreases by 10%  per turn.  Mental status
  • Sickened: Player-available, debilitating status, target does not benefit from healing.  Physical status.
  • Enraged: Player-available, control status, fixes on AI control, and disables Defend for players.  Varied AI effects for enemies.  Mental status.
  • Bound: Player-available or enemy-exclusive, debilitating status, target cannot evade or counterattack.  Physical status.
  • [Element] Imbued: Player-available status, enhancement status, target’s weapon attacks become [element], gains 50% resistance and 50% weakness pertaining to [element]’s strengths and weaknesses.
  • Blind: Player-available, debilitating status, reduces target accuracy by 40%.  Physical status.
  • Sleep: Player-available, disabling status, target cannot act until battle end, cured, or hit.  Mental status.
  • Paralysis: Player-available, disabling status, target cannot act until cured or status ends.  Physical status.
  • Unlucky: Enemy-exclusive status, debilitating status, reduces target critical rate and critical evasion by 100%.  Mental status.

This isn’t all of the status effects I can think of, but it’s definitely a large sampling, and a starting point.  Of course, as a tentative list, it’s to my advantage that while I can build around it, I do not necessarily have to stick to it, and may in fact change it as necessary, most likely during skillset evaluation when it will most definitely stand to be pared down.  As it stands, this is more than enough on the subject for now.  Status is quite a useful tool to vary the offensive options in a game, but care must be used in its implementation.  This has been another post of Gratuitous JRPG, and this is Epic Alphonse, signing out until next time.

Posted June 10, 2013 by EpicAlphonse in Uncategorized

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Heretical Statements In The Name Of Game Design, Part II   Leave a comment

Welcome back to Gratuitous JRPG.  Last week, we covered some aspects of character design, including some general matters where the defaults did many, many things wrong, and laid down stats for the currently existing characters in the game.  This week will go over the topics of equipment and skillsets, two more defining matters of a RPG, as well as look into the wildly varying ways to handle both.

Two posts ago, we went into the idea that all equipment would largely cover partial customization.  We’re finally going to go in-depth on what pieces of equipment go where on who, and manage what they do at that.  First, notably, is the decision made here that everyone will share equipment classes to some degree.  This is most definitely not needed; as said previously, sharing weapon classes is not customization.  However, this does open up a number of factors.  The first and foremost being that equipment will need to be balanced for all their users, as opposed to just one; a piece of gear that works one way for one person might end up overpowered in someone else’s hands.  The second is that it opens up the possibility of unique (that is to say, singular on a given playthrough) weapons or armor with the potential for multiple users, forcing the player to decide on a user, or giving them the chance to use the weapon as long as they use one of the prospective wielders.  The last is that it does affect the decision as to whether one wishes to give each character any definitive “ultimate” equipment or not, as the presence thereof would negate the previ0us decision-making.  Given my preferences, I am perfectly fine with not giving ultimates out, so the decision on shared types stands.

We are jumping the gun here, however.  An equally important question is simply “what equipment slots do characters have?”  This is an important question to consider, if only because there is no point in coming up with helmets or shields if you decide the only things a character can use are a weapon, body armor, and an accessory.  The point is rather self-explanatory, but for the sake of illustration, RMVXA’s defaults utilize a selection of weapon, shield, armor, helmet, and accessory.  This game deviates slightly from this in manners that will be shown soon, with equipment slots for a given character designated as Main Hand, Off Hand, Head, Body, Accessory, and two Sigils.

This will bring us to what will fill these slots.  As stated before, there will be multiple equipment classes, which will in turn be shared between characters.  For an example of how RMVXA’s defaults handle equipment, each character gets access to one and only one weapon type, and then access to both “General” armor and at least one of “Magic”, “Light”, or “Heavy” armors–these cover both body armor and headgear.  Some characters then get access to either light, or all shields, and then all characters can use an accessory.  The armor classes do not differ wildly across types; “Magic” armor grants magic power, magic defense, and elemental resistances at higher tiers in exchange for physical defense, “Light” armor is dead average, and “Heavy” armor sacrifices very marginal amounts of basic attack speed and evasion for improved physical defense.  Needless to say, a case where there’s design issues once more, since there is zero reason not to use heavy armor when possible.

This game will be handled differently, and as such a breakdown of equipment would happen to be in order.  This will be notably long and in-depth, but I will try to keep matters organized as much as possible;

Weapons:

  • Heavy Swords: This category covers your archetypal longswords, alongside their two-handed varieties.  In short, think of every standard RPG sword.  This will have above-average power, but below-average penetration.  The two-handed versions, of course, hurt more but take up your off-hand slot.  These will range from two to three swings on a basic attack
  • Spears: All of these are two-handed, and they’re notable for having the best armor penetration in the game.  Power hovers around average, but servicable for how well they get through enemy defense.  Two swings.
  • Axes/Hammers: These two are clustered together on the basis that they all have the same users, and these are another two-handed weapon category.  Axes enjoy very high power, a boosted critical rate, and subpar penetration.  Hammers sacrifice the critical rate for improved armor penetration.  They suffer minor accuracy problems, however, and only get two swings on a basic.
  • Knives: Light and fast weapons, knives are low on power and not good at getting through armor, but they make up for it with a boosted critical rate and a high swingcount at four–making them the easiest to build up Exceed with, though you’ll lose out on power with them that way.
  • Bows: Bows are a special type of weapon.  Below-average damage, above-average penetration, and their attacks have initiative.  On top of that, equipping a bow allows one to use off-hand arrows, which are detailed below.  Three swings on a basic.
  • Staves: Staves are the defensive weapon choice of the lot.  Below-average damage and penetration, they provide a notable evasion boost to those who can equip them, ensuring a greater amount of survivability.  They give three swings on a basic attack.
  • Light Swords: This covers rapiers, epees, and the family of fencing swords, these weapons sport average damage and above-average penetration.  Their attacks give three swings, but they’re more notable for the fact that they give access to off-hand daggers, which are also detailed below.

Off-Hand Items:

  • Shields: The ubiquitous off-hand item, these are nice little evasion- and resistance-granting boons to the people who can use them.  Those people do have to sacrifice the benefits of their heavier weapons or more offense-oriented  gear to take advantage of this, however.
  • Gauntlets: These are another off-hand item, allowing for minor defensive or offensive benefits when equipped.  Same caveat as the shields, though more people can use them, and thus the restrictions don’t hurt as badly.
  • Foci: Spell focuses!  The offensive choice for mages.  They take a bunch of forms but basically have the general tendency to improve properties of spells one way or another
  • Arrows: Only usable with a bow in the main hand, arrows add extra elemental and status properties to bow attacks.  They’re a good way of getting some tricks on the bow-users you normally can’t, so try and experiment.
  • Off-hand Daggers: Only usable with a light sword in the main hand, off-hand daggers have the benefit of adding an extra bit of punch on top of giving secondary benefits.  While arrows give elements and status, daggers give other mechanical bonuses that you’re less likely to see on an off-hand item.

Body Armor:

  • Heavy Armor:Covers mail armors.  This armor is about what you’d expect, heavy, metallic, and damn good at taking hits.  Provides the most ARM out of any of the armor types.
  • Medium Armor:Covers leather and other such armors.  While providing a minor amount of ARM, medium armor is better at lessening the impact of attacks than nulling them altogether, giving a percentile reduction to attacks.
  • Light Armor:Largely covering cloth armors, while this may cover some robes, it also handles cloaks and the like as well.  Split between evasion-based and magical defense-based armors.

Headgear:

  • Helmets:To give you a harder head, no matter how hard it already is.  They provide some extra ARM and sometimes other benefits.
  • Hats:They’re fancy!  They’re well-sought commodities on TF2!  They’re hats!  And they largely give status protection along a minor base defensive boost.
  • Circlets: Circlets are the favored headwear of magicians who are looking for a trinket to help with their willpower and ability to focus.  A number of these tend to be elementally-aligned in some capacity as well.

Other:

  • Accessories: Only enough room for one, each character can use any of these, which provide a myriad of oddball benefits.
  • Sigil Crests: Each character can use two of these, which provide notable statistical modifiers on top of spells and even Exceed abilities!

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Guess the relevance of this pic, win a prize!  No really, go ahead and guess it. (Disclaimer: I don’t have any real prizes to give)

Similarly, there’s the list of who gets what equipment, though this one is thankfully much more concise than the last.  I’ll spare the rationales for this one on the basis that it kind of breaks up the list in this case, but needless to say that they feel to me like they fit the characters.

  • Leo: Heavy Swords, Spears, Heavy Armor, Medium Armor, Helmets, Hats, Shields, Gauntlets
  • Friederich: Heavy Swords, Spears, Axes, Heavy Armor, Helmets, Shields, Gauntlets
  • Renaud: Knives, Bows, Medium Armor, Light Armor, Hats, Gauntlets, Arrows
  • Alexis: Knives, Staves, Light Armor, Hats, Circlets, Foci
  • Valeska: Spears, Axes, Medium Armor, Helmets, Hats
  • Kiri: Heavy Swords, Axes, Heavy Armor, Hats, Circlets, Gauntlets
  • Caecilia: Light Swords, Staves, Medium Armor, Light Armor, Circlets, Foci, Off-hand Daggers

Okay, so that’s a rather exhaustive list of equipment types and who gets what.  But that last note about sigils is a good point on which to start on the next point: Innate versus Template skill systems.  The question of whether to have characters possess their own distinct skills, be blank slates that can be customized, or a mix of the two.  On the innate end, you have games like Phantasy Star 4, the Shining Force games, and Final Fantasy 4, as well as the RMVXA defaults.  On the other hand, you have template systems like the third and fifth Wild ARMs games, and Final Fantasy 7 and Tactics.  And then somewhere in the middle, one has what can be described as “half-template” games, which offer characters with distinct skillsets, but also a template upon which to build more.  Examples of this include Final Fantasy 6 and the PSX remake of Lunar:Eternal Blue.  This latter setup is notably difficult, and I am going to go out on a limb here, but Final Fantasy 6’s handling of its own half-template system is an example of why it’s not as good of a game as a large number of people remember it to be.

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Woah, hold on, not yet!  Let me explain!

Before the Final Fantasy 6 fans among my readers go out of their way to hunt me down and kill me, allow me to elaborate on why.  Anyone familiar with Final Fantasy 6’s setup recognizes that there are functionally two halves to a character’s skillset: the innate half, which varies from character to character, and the half learned through magicite, which is the template half.  Now, the problems with how FF6 handles its skill systems can be boiled down to three major issues: Redundancy, Tiering, and Obsolescence.  Redundancy in that a large number of the same things the innate skills do are covered by magic.  Tiering insofar that there are tiered skills within the template abilities that are far and ahead better than most others (Ultima in particular comes to mind, nevermind things like Quick).  And  lastly, Obsolescence in that there is very little that the innate skills can do better than magic.  The lattermost can be illustrated in particular by several characters who have either redundant innate skills (Sabin, Shadow), innate skills that largely are the template skills (Terra, Celes), or innate skills that are flat-out not useful (Celes, Locke, Cyan, Relm when not glitching the game, Edgar about half the time) or abysmally documented (Gau) by the game in practice.

So, what is my point in picking Final Fantasy 6 apart to the chagrin of its fans everywhere?  When constructing innate skillsets in a half-template system, let those skills be the ones that stand out, rather than being overshadowed by the template skills.  The latter should be decent for customization and filling in gaps, not for subsuming what makes the character unique.  I’m going to pains to point this out in part because the sigils are my own attempt of constructing a half-template system for skillsets within my game.  For those familiar, consider it a mix between Wild ARMs games 3 and 4.  For those not familiar, consider that each character can equip two Sigil Crests.  Each of these Sigil Crests provides a minor statistical bonus based on the crest itself, a small grouping of spells unique to itself, and one Exceed ability unique to itself.  However, each character retains their innate abilities in turn, which cover a wider variety of abilities than what the crests do.

At this point, I feel that it would be relevant to flesh out the current characters’ skillsets in general terms; I am nowhere near the point of constructing individual skillsets, but I can go to the point of outlining what they’d be able to do.  In addition, I can conclude that with sigils, I can make individual skillsets smaller, tentatively aiming for roughly eight innate skills and three Exceed skills on average, with some room for variation.  But these are only statements for future intent.  I encourage those of you following along with your own projects to try your hand at this for your characters.  Getting to the skillsets:

  • Leo: Leo’s skillset was the hardest one for me to come up with.  In general, he focuses a good deal on fast single strikes, with many of his moves having initiative.  In addition, he possesses a small number of pseudomagic shockwave attacks.  It may be a cop-out, but it’s a JRPG, someone needs to have a projectile shockwave attack from swinging their sword just the right way.  In addition, he can get a bit evasive when he wants to…
  • Friederich: Friederich’s skillset is an unusual one.  To say the least, his main source of damage outside of his 25-EX skill is simply the use of basic physicals.  However, this does not mean that he’s stuck with a lack of a skillset.  With a couple of physical stat-debuffs alongside a large variety of free-action stances to modify his attack and defenses in a variety of ways on the fly, Friederich shouldn’t be underestimated just because he lacks a variety of damage skills.
  • Renaud: Renaud’s a scoundrel, and that is ultimately reflected in his fighting style.  Needless to say, he fights dirty, using cheap shots, precision attacks, tricks, poisons, and whatever else he can get his hands on to turn a fight to his favor.  In short, status, and a good deal of it.  And of course, filching from an enemy or two doesn’t hurt in his eyes.  After all, it’s all for profit.
  • Alexis: It is fairly obvious that Alexis is a mage, so it’s not surprising that this would show in his skillset–nothing but magic.  Possessing a small count of elemental spells on top of party support abilities, Alexis is more built for group support, and this shows in his healing and buffing options, having the only pure multitarget heal in the game.  His Exceed abilities reflect this as well, though he will be getting notable extra abilities from Sigils compared to other characters.
  • Valeska:Valeska’s skillset can be summed up in a few ways.  Defense-piercing, high-power, focused skills that focus on killing the enemy above all else.  Factor in some notable offensive buffs and one tricky anti-magic ability and it becomes apparent that she is very good at what she does, and what she does is kill things.  Painfully.
  • Kiri:Kiri is unfocused, to say the least.  Not to say that she has a smattering of everything, but her abilities tend toward smashing as many things as possible with little regard for accuracy.  This shows in less-than-accurate skills, random-targeting skills, and group-targeting effects.  All the time she uses and blends both physical and magical power, with chained and composite effects, in her powerful but indiscriminate abilities.
  • Caecilia:Caecilia’s “theme” for her abilities can be summed up in one word: Dueling.  While she has been trained in both magic, having a repertoire of some useful buffing and healing spells, and swordsmanship, her skills are almost exclusively single-target.  As such, she may not be the best at handling groups, but single enemies are well within her ability to handle, with the ability to land strings of piercing blows, bleeding strikes, and deft ripostes among other abilities.

And that’s that for character skillset concepting.  Further down the road these skills will be properly quantified, but as with the rest of the concepting phases, this is satisfactory for the time being.  Skillsets are a very important tool to flesh out characters, and may possibly require the most attention out of anything in a game.  However, considering these skills means covering another matter of JRPGs that has been left uncovered as of now: the wide world of status effects.  However, that is a topic for next time.  As such, this is Epic Alphonse, signing out.

Posted June 2, 2013 by EpicAlphonse in Uncategorized

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